Thursday, April 30, 2020

Madeline Kripke (1943–2020)

Of the coronavirus. Keeper of one of the largest private collections of dictionaries. The New York Times has an obituary.

Flow, a Mac app

Flow is a free app for Mac, a Pomodoro-style timer with a bonus: it allows the user to blacklist apps (thus avoiding distractions when said user is supposed to be working).

I’ve long used the free timer Tomato One. Tomato Two (macOS 10.15+ only), also free, blocks websites with an in-app purchase. One could avoid all sorts of work by engaging in an internal debate about what’s more useful, blocking apps or blocking websites. Why not retain both options? To my mind, the more timer apps and mechanical timers one has around, the better. Had we world enough and timers.

Thanks to Matt Thomas for recommending this app.

Related posts
Orange timer art : Ozeri Kitchen and Event Timer : The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated (A review)

Made to order

Remembering an unsettling knock on a classroom door made me remember another great moment in pedagogy.

I was an undergrad at Fordham College, in a Shakespeare class with a beloved professor, Paul Memmo. It was mid-afternoon, and King Lear was raging on the heath. All at once, the Bronx sky darkened. Then, distant thunder, and the rain came down. It was weather made to order, as everyone understood.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

On Duke Ellington’s birthday

Duke Ellington was born 121 years ago today.

Here’s an unembeddable performance, piano alone, a recital for television broadcast, taped in Paris, July 2, 1970. The program, with all compositions by Ellington except as noted:

Fleurette Africaine : Carolina Shout (James P. Johnson) : Take The “A” Train (Billy Strayhorn) : Black Beauty : Warm Valley : Things Ain’t What They Used to Be (Mercer Ellington) : Paris Blues : New World A-Comin’ : Paris Blues : Come Sunday : Lotus Blossom (Strayhorn)

Ellington is in rare form here. I’d point in particular to “Fleurette Africaine,” “Black Beauty” (first recorded in 1928), and “Come Sunday.” And there’s “Carolina Shout.” When in later life Ellington revisited the stride-piano style of his early years, it was typically in the form of brief novelty performances of his “Soda Fountain Rag.” (For instance.) “Carolina Shout,” too, wraps up pretty quickly, but Ellington seems to be playing to give Johnson his due. “There never was another,” Ellington wrote of him in Music Is My Mistress.

A bonus Ellington-related detail: if you watch the broadcast with “Soda Fountain Rag,” you’ll see the pianist Aaron Bridgers. He and Billy Strayhorn had a nine-year relationship, 1939–1948.

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

[Ken Vail’s Duke’s Diary, Part Two (2002) omits “Carolina Shout” and adds “Dancers in Love,” “In the Beginning God,” and “Satin Doll.”]

Some rocks, prehistoric

A science project, in today’s Far Side reruns. “Some rocks” are an abiding preoccupation of these pages.

“Or a college of any kind”

Responding to a question about his contact with families of coronavirus patients, Donald Trump* yesterday went off in all directions. The slap here comes at the end:

”I think that the whole concept of computer learning is wonderful, but it’s not — tele-, telelearning. But it’s not the same thing as being in a classroom in a great college, or a college of any kind.“
Also: “telelearning”?

[My transcription.]

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Homemade music

Sonny Rollins, September 15, 2001: “Maybe music can help. I don't know, but we have to try something these days, right?” We did, and still do. Here is an imperfect gesture toward better days: “Nuages” (Django Reinhardt) and “Georgia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael–Stuart Gorrell).

YouTube also has us playing “In a Mizz” (Charlie Barnet–Haven Johnson). Surely someone out there must remember that tune from Citizen Kane (the party scene in Florida).

Great moments in pedagogy

Out for a walk this morning, listening to an episode of the BBC’s Great Lives about Harold Pinter, I remembered a moment from teaching Modern British Literature twenty years ago this spring. We were reading Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter aloud and had hit — I swear it — this bit of dialogue: “If there’s a knock at the door you don’t answer it.” And there was a knock at the door. I thought I’d better answer it.

It was my friend and colleague Norman, with (I think) something I’d left behind at lunch. I don’t remember what. But I’ve never forgotten the knock. It came the one and only time I taught a Pinter play.

TV as radio

From Tight Spot (dir. Phil Karlson, 1955), spoken by prison inmate Sherry Conley (Ginger Rogers):

“Television should be so good that when you close your eyes it sounds like a radio.”
Tight Spot is available from the Criterion Channel.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Comic strips in a pandemic

The New York Times looks at comics in the time of the coronavirus.

One strip that’s missing: Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy, which has taken a surprising turn: Sluggo is now staying with Nancy and Aunt Fritzi, and the kids are doing school on a computer, with delightful results. Another surprise: Aunt Fritzi spoke by phone today with Sluggo’s truck-driving uncles, characters introduced during the strip’s Guy Gilchrist years.

In other comics news, Zippy may be hoarding paper towels.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy and Zippy posts (Pinboard)

The perils of inattention

The Washington Post reports that “U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February”:

The repeated warnings were conveyed in issues of the President’s Daily Brief, a sensitive report that is produced before dawn each day and designed to call the president’s attention to the most significant global developments and security threats.

For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.

But the alarms appear to have failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.
Donald Trump*’s nose is stuck, along the rest of his head, someplace, yes, but not in a book.

King Oscar with cracked pepper

I see to my mild chagrin that I’ve posted about King Oscar Sardines with Spicy Cracked Pepper before, but I’m posting about these sardines again in a world newly attentive to “the small oily fish.” Click on the image if you prefer bigger fish.

The can of King Oscar I just had for lunch (with tomato soup and Saltines) was old enough to be missing the “Wild Caught” designation now on the wrapper. But whatever the label says or doesn’t say, these are extraordinary sardines. If there were such a thing as Szechuan sardines, these would be that thing. Intensely peppery, and the burn seems to be deepened by hot soup. Highly recommended.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[Since 2017, “the small oily fish” has been my deliberately dumb inelegant variation on “sardine.”]

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

Do you recognize her? Leave your answers in the comments. I’ll drop hints if necessary.


9:42 a.m.: That was fast. The answer is now in the comments. I think I have some of the most eagle-eyed readers in the world.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

[Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that “support for actress seems to be eroding.” I’ll use actor.]

Sunday, April 26, 2020


Earlier today, Donald Trump* ranted about reporters receiving “Noble Prizes for their work on Russia, Russia, Russia.” He suggested that they return “their cherished ‘Nobles’” so that they can be given to “the REAL REPORTERS & JOURNALISTS who got it right.” Bonus laugh line: “I can give the Committee a very comprehensive list.” He also suggested that the “Noble Committee” demand the return of the prizes. Now the Noble tweets are gone. (Read them here.) But there’s this:

I hereby vow to explain all my typos, spelling errors, glitches in syntax, gaps in knowledge, and lapses in judgment as sarcasm. But I don’t expect to be any more convincing than our shambles of a president is.

It’s Twenty-fifth Amendment time.

Add some letters to your day

[Post title with apologies to the Beach Boys.]

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

In childhood, I would have called today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Brad Wilber, “medium.” Not too difficult, not too easy. “How was the test, Michael?” “Medium.” But wait a sec — in childhood I wouldn’t have been venturing anyway near this crossword.

Today’s puzzle has a number of surprising answers. They go with these clues:

1-A, 8 letters, “Bring pressure to bear.” I can’t recall seeing the answer in a puzzle before.

1-D, five letters, “Biggest performing rights group.” I’m married to a member.

11-D, eleven letters, “Efficient clamps.” Yow!

12-D, four letters, “One in an Old Time Radio lineup.” Clever stuff.

21-D, six letters, “Period of petitioning.” Something to do with an election year? No. A really smart clue and an unusual answer.

24-D, eleven letters, “British dessert.” I was hoping for SPOTTEDDICK, which I know about from a Henry Threadgill tune.

41-A, ten letters, “Attired, as circus chimps.” Wonderfully weird.

45-A, eight letters, “Diligent.” This answer strikes me as a word one might see in a dowdy academic’s letter of recommendation.

65-A, six letters, What Every Mother Should Know author (1914). I guessed right.

And now back to words from my childhood.

“Medium” is not a synonym for Goldilocks’s “just right.” Indeed, there’s a crossing in this puzzle which seems to me ridiculous: 14-D, four letters, “Forest*A*__ (online woods management guide)” and 16-A, six letters, “Like tangerines.” The problem, as I see it: 14-D is painfully obscure. And because that’s the case, an apt answer for 16-A is not likely to look like a wrong answer. Indeed, that wrong answer, to my eyes, is a better answer, a cleverer answer, than the correct one. Caution: if you plan to do the puzzle, stop reading here.

To the left, the original. To the right, my suggested alterations:

G E C K O S     G E C K O S
O R A N G Y     O R A N G E
T E N O R S     T E N O R A
    I B E T         I T E R
I’ll grant that TENORA (clued perhaps as “Voice of Catalonia”) and ITER (“Brainy passage”) are a bit out of the way. But ORANGE, noun and adjective, is wittier than the variant spelling ORANGY, and as for Forest*A*SYST — jeepers.

No other spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Lysol and lightbulbs

Donald Trump*’s irresponsible, dangerous suggestion that disinfectants, used internally, might kill the coronavirus has prompted Reckitt Benckiser, maker of Lysol, to issue a disclaimer:

Due to recent speculation and social media activity, RB (the makers of Lysol and Dettol) has been asked whether internal administration of disinfectants may be appropriate for investigation or use as a treatment for coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion, or any other route). As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information.

We have a responsibility in providing consumers with access to accurate, up-to-date information as advised by leading public health experts. For this and other myth-busting facts, please visit
Here, “recent speculation” is a euphemism for executive-level Dunning-Kruger freestyling imbecility, unfiltered.

As for Trump*’s suggestion that light might kill the virus in the body, I suggest one old-fashioned lightbulb (the kind Trump* likes) for his mouth, and one for — never mind. Treatment best administered while the patient watches television.

And please, no one, not even a nationally known cartoonist, can convince me that Trump* was talking about “far-UV light catheter technology.” Please.

Here are Reckitt Benckiser’s words as a link:


Trump* today is claiming that his suggestions were sarcasm directed at reporters. He’s lying of course, as the video record makes clear. Dr. Deborah Birx says today that Trump* was “still digesting” new information as he was speaking. Which I think might mean that he threw up.

[The relevant section of the briefing begins at 20:26. Notice that Trump*’s comments immediately followed William Bryan’s comments on light, disinfectants, and their use on surfaces. Notice too that Scott Adams’s evidence for his claim about “far-UV light catheter technology” is a YouTube video uploaded thirteen hours ago, to an account created yesterday, with this one video to its name. As of April 25, the video is gone: “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.”]


Fernando Pessoa, from text 92, The Book of Disquiet, trans. from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Pessoa posts (Pinboard)

[Not make the past great again?]

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Meta Zits

[Zits, April 23, 2020.]

Today’s Zits is nicely meta. Connie’s conclusion about her son’s words: “The thinnest of excuses.”

Not done yet

In today’s Family Circus, Billy explains punctuation: “That’s a hyphen. It means the word isn’t done yet.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Science must trump politics

From The New York Times:

The doctor who led the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine said on Wednesday that he was removed from his post after he pressed for a rigorous vetting of a coronavirus treatment embraced by President Trump. The doctor said that science, not “politics and cronyism” must lead the way.
From Dr. Rick Bright’s statement on his removal:
Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.
Here’s the full statement.

[How many hyrdoxychloroquine cronies can you name in ten seconds?]

Cuomo and Gibbon and others

I flipped on the television after an escape to Brontëland and saw Andrew Cuomo talking. Behind him, on a screen, a sentence attributed to Edward Gibbon:

When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then [they] ceased to be free.
But it’s not from Edward Gibbon. It’s from Edith Hamilton, sort of, by way of Margaret Thatcher. Background here.

I know the idea from a different part of the political spectrum, as expressed by Julius Lester, who contrasts “freedom from” and “freedom to” in a discussion of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The best way to use one’s freedom right now, if your life and work allow it, is to stay home. That’s the freedom of being responsible, to oneself and to others.

[The they in brackets (parentheses on the screen) takes the place of Athens.]

“Give yourself a coffee-break”

Michael Pollan’s review of Augustine Sedgewick’s Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug notes that the term coffee-break

entered the vernacular through a 1952 advertising campaign by the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, a trade group organized by Central American growers. Their slogan: “Give yourself a coffee-break . . . and get what coffee gives to you.”
That sounded familiar. How? Why? Oh — I had looked it up for a blog post in 2014.

Here is one of the Life magazine advertisements that promoted the slogan:

[Did baseball players ever really drink coffee in the dugout? Some, yes. Life, August 4, 1952. Click for a much larger view.]

Bob Elliott was nearing the end of his playing career in 1952. Larry Jansen, in mid-career, was the winning pitcher in the famous 1951 Giants–Dodgers National League championship playoff game that the Giants won in the bottom of the ninth. My dad always remembered hearing that game on the radio. The Giants went on to lose the 1951 World Series to the New York Yankees.

“A cup of coffee,” as some readers will already know, is a baseball term for a short stint in the major leagues. Maybe that’s what the unidentified player on the right was having.

Related reading
All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)

“The tedium of dangers”

Fernando Pessoa, from text 75, The Book of Disquiet, trans. from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Pessoa posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Handwriting in the news:

Parts of the note were apparently illegible to the teller, but he was able to make out the words “all the cash.”
Maybe “Glue me all the cash”? Film fans will recognize that life, once again, is imitating art. Apt natural.

“Trust nurses”

“Trust nurses / Go home”: text on a sign held by a Pennsylvania healthcare worker facing off against protesters wanting to “open the country”, on NBC Nightly News tonight.

Musgrave ephemera

From Musgrave Pencils: a vintage catalogue and Forest to Office, a vintage advertising brochure, both page by page.

A related post
Harvest Refill Leads (A Musgrave product, c. 1930s-1940s)

KeyboardCleanTool icons

I’m engaged in a never-ending battle to keep my MacBook Air keyboard from acquiring the greasy shine that MacBook keyboards acquire. I found a free app earlier this year that helps in that battle: Jan Lehnardt’s KeyBoard Cleaner, which locks the keyboard for easier cleaning. Today I found another app, also free, that’s better: Andreas Hegenberg’s KeyboardCleanTool (herefter, KCT). One clear advantage: KCT doesn’t turn the screen black. In other words, it’s always clear what to do to get the keyboard back. Another advantage: KCT disables function keys. When I wipe down the keyboard after locking it with KCT, hitting F8 doesn’t open iTunes.

One problem with KCT: its images spark, for me, no joy. Here are the images that the app uses to show keyboard-on and keyboard-off. The keyboard-on image is also the app’s icon:

[The files are named green and rot. But they’re really blue and rot, or red.]

The gradients look dated to me, and the keyboard reminds me too much of the checkered flag seen at auto races. I tried working with keyboard images available online but found the results unsatisfactory, with tiny dopey-looking keys. Then I had a thought. I used the Mac app Pages to create a circle and added text in Courier New. I pushed the text a little higher in the circle with the align option. I used Preview’s alpha tool to turn the space outside the circle transparent. After figuring out an image for keyboard-on, the choice for keyboard-off seemed obvious.

[Orange and black are the new green. Orange is the new red.]

I then used the free app Image2icon to turn the keyboard-on image into an icon.

In use, the images work like so:

[The keyboard-off image is an obvious fake, as there’s no way to manage a screenshot with a locked keyboard. I filled in the circle by hand.]

The mystery of replacing an app’s icons or images is really no mystery at all: right-click the app (when it’s not open) in the Finder, choose Show Package Contents, and look for the appropriate files. They’ll probably be in a Resources folder. Rename the old images or icons (I just add the word old) and add the new ones with appropriate names. Just make sure that your replacements are the same kinds of files and the same sizes as the originals.

What is a mystery: how KCT changes the icon in the dock from keyboard-on to keyboard-off. Way cool.

[Sometimes I have to concentrate on the trivial to cope with the non-trivial.]

Monday, April 20, 2020

Turtles all the way down

After a week of protests calling for the state to be “reopened,” Kentucky reported on Sunday its highest single-day increase in coronavirus infections. And an Ohio resident who pronounced his state’s stay-at-home order “bullshit” has died of the coronavirus.

The paranoid style in American politics is never at a loss for explanations: another layer of theorizing can always be added to support a rickety conspiracy theory. It’s turtles, or theories, all the way down.

So it’s easy to imagine what the paranoid style — the really, really paranoid style — might make of these deaths: government operatives mingling in the crowds sprayed a chemical on protesters to sicken them and further brainwash the citizenry into believing that the coronavirus is real; government operatives targeted the Ohio resident for speaking out. Or, if you prefer something more outré — the infected protestors and Ohio resident are really “crisis actors,” who serve to further brainwash, &c.

And it’s all in preparation for martial law, coming soon. And it’s turtles all the way down.

“It isn’t over — he is”

[“The Return of Bert ‘n’ Bob.” Zippy, April 20, 2020.]

Today’s Zippy, timely yesterday, today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, &c.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Dream headline

I saw this headline early this morning, in a sidebar on the front page of a print newspaper, in a dream: “DIY Supermarket Erases Thousands Who Opposed Russia.”

Likely influences: all the at-home activities in the news, a recent trip to the supermarket, voter suppression.

[Unlike my dream newspaper, Orange Crate Art uses sentence-style headlines, which prompted one reader’s outrage in 2014. Pepperidge Farm remembers. See here and here for a laugh.]

COVID, Covid

COVID, or Covid? The Guardian offers a short commentary on “the comfort of pedantry at a time of national crisis.”

The New York Times spells it as “Covid”; The Washington Post, as “covid.” The Times rule, as given in its Manual of Style and Usage: “When an acronym serves as a proper name and exceeds four letters, capitalize only the first letter.”


April 21: Shop Talk, a blog for The Chicago Manual of Style, has an extensive discussion of COVID-19 and related terms.

Thanks, Fresca.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Trump*’s two plans

David Frum, writing in The Atlantic about Donald Trump*’s two plans for dealing with the coronavirus:

Either he pushes the country to trade poor people’s lives for the pursuit of economic recovery, or he gets a cable-TV culture war to distract his supporters from the troubles he himself aggravated by his own negligence.

President Trump’s bad leadership has inflicted terrible hardship on Americans. Trump’s Plan A is to use the pain of that hardship to justify more bad leadership. His Plan B is to use the pain as a way to shift odium: Don’t blame me, the guy who failed to prepare for the pandemic. Blame the governors who are now forced to respond to my failure. . . .

Both Trump’s Plan A and Plan B intend to turn American against American, in an ugly spirit of rancor and resentment. In pandemic as in prosperity, the Trump way is to punish opponents, reward friends; accuse victims, protect culprits; demand credit, refuse accountability; protect preferred classes and groups of Americans — and sacrifice the rest.

Henry Grimes and Giuseppi Logan

Henry Grimes (1935–2020), bassist, of coronavirus. Giuseppi Logan (1935–2020), saxophonist, of coronavirus. Each made music again despite great adversity.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is by “Anna Stiga,” Newsday crossword editor Stan Newman, composing under a pen name he uses for easier Stumpers.

And if I may: though Will Shortz gets the glory, such as it is, Stan Newman oversees a puzzle that is pretty consistently pleasing, especially on Saturdays. What I most like about Newsday puzzles is the relative absence of the arch and corny. No stunts, no connect-the-circled-letters.

This puzzle was an easy one. I solved in a clockwise circle, starting at 11:00 or so, and found the greatest difficulty in the puzzle’s middle. But just mild difficulty.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

1-D, eight letters, “The Star Wars cantina?” Nice. And I don’t even know Star Wars.

6-D, three letters, “Boy, in Brooklynese.” Dat’s me.

9-A, six letters, “Prepares for a take-off.” Is it spelled TAXIES? No.

11-D, four letters, “Squash, for short.” I’d never think of spelling it this way, but that’s how it’s spelled.

15-A, eight letters, “Affecting.” A little highfalutin, this answer.

21-D, eight letters, “Five-sided cardboard box.” Oh — it does have five sides. Huh.

38-A, fifteen letters, “Moneymaking picture takers.” How many p s in papparazzi? Not enough.

46-D, six letters, “Underground comix pioneer.” And comix is spelled appropriately.

64-D, three letters, “‘Mighty swell’ Keats poem subject.” Neato!

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

“Butter maiden” retired

The Land O’Lakes “butter maiden,” a fixture on packaging since 1928, has been retired. No explanation from the company, but the explanation should be obvious: the days of Native American “mascots” belong in the past.

The New York Times has an article. But I learned about the redesign from a blog post by Daughter Number Three. As she says, “Finally.”

Friday, April 17, 2020

“Space enough not to escape”

Bernando Soares has opinions about everything:

Fernando Pessoa, from text 67, The Book of Disquiet, trans. from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Pessoa posts (Pinboard)


[Fragrances everywhere.]

“What fragrance is that?”


And so it was. Probably dryer sheets.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lee Konitz (1927–2020)

Lee Konitz, alto saxophonist, has died of the coronavirus at the age of ninety-two. From The New York Times obituary:

Like many jazz musicians, Mr. Konitz often found himself plying his trade in bars and nightclubs, where the audiences were less than completely attentive. He professed not to mind.

“Wherever I’m at, I’m happy to have a chance to play,” he told the British jazz writer Les Tompkins in 1976. “People come in and say, ‘How can you work in this noisy little joint?’ I say: ‘Very easy. I take the horn out of the bag, and I put it in my mouth.’ I appreciate the opportunity.”
Here is an opportunity to hear a Konitz performance of “Stella by Starlight” (Victor Young), uploaded to YouTube today. All alto, all alone.

लोकः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु

Kavita Pillay, co-host of the podcast Subtitle, spoke with her mother Indira Pillay, a retired pathologist, for the episode “One Virus, Many Languages.” Dr. Pillay said that she doesn’t believe in a benevolent deity but nevertheless has a favorite line of prayer: Lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu. It’s Sanskrit: लोकः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु. Her translation: “Let the whole world be well.” Another translation: “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.” A hope all beings can get behind.

Here’s a parsing of the Sanskrit, which I hope is reliable.

[There’s no transcript for the podcast. I typed the Sanskrit words as I heard them, crossed my fingers, and the Internets did the rest.]

Sardines everywhere

You know how fans feel when their favorite band gets a big recording contract and becomes everyone’s favorite? That’s kinda how I feel about sardines, which are now everywhere.

This week, in The New York Times, Alison Roman explains “How to Make the Most of Those Cans of Sardines.” Though Roman professes to love the small oily fish, most of her suggestions are about masking the flavor, with lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, herbs, &c. Any or all of which are good in moderation, of course. There’s also a recipe for baby potatoes with sardines, celery, and dill — behind a paywall, but using a browser’s Reader View should show it. Shh.

Since 2017, “the small oily fish” has been my deliberately dumb inelegant variation on “sardine.”

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Blanchett’s OED

[Click for a larger view.]

It’s not just Tom Hanks. Cate Blanchett, too, has the twenty-volume second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary on her bookshelves. As seen on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night. If you disable your ad blocker, you can see it here.

A related post
Hanks’s OED (As seen on SNL)

“I never learn to learn”

“Isolation,” says Bernardo Soares, “has carved me in its image and likeness”:

Fernando Pessoa, from text 49, The Book of Disquiet, trans. from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Pessoa posts (Pinboard)

VDP in and on uncharted waters

Van Dyke Parks talked with the Los Angeles Times about life in and on these uncharted waters:

“Tie me to the mast. Show me what you got. I am not moving. There’s a very social aspect to what I do, but also I’m very monastic. What I do is write. And that takes being alone. This solitude that’s being forced on me and my wife is — hell’s bells as it is — just standard operating procedure.”
His theme song for this time: “Getting to know me, getting to know all about me.”

If the LAT article goes behind the paywall, you can read it here instead.

Related reading
All OCA VDP posts (Pinboard)

Radio stars

A headline from today’s New York Times: “Trump Wanted a Radio Show, But Deferred to Rush Limbaugh.”

Before reading the article, I thought, Oh, so he thought about doing talk radio before deciding to run for president. But no. He floated the radio idea last month.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Total authority

I read these words: “When somebody’s president of the United States, the authority is total.”

And I think of these: “I’m Gumby, dammit!”

prius starts wont go into gear

Elaine and I put on masks and gloves for a robbery shopping expedition this morning and found ourselves with an unusual problem: our Prius wouldn’t go into gear. The electrical system switched on, but the car wouldn’t move. Turning the car off was a problem too, requiring repeated presses of the Power button before anything happened. It took half a dozen false starts before we could back out of the driveway.

I did a search — prius starts wont go into gear — and found a range of explanations, from faulty foot to faulty brake-pedal sensor to failing hybrid battery. While the car was moving, we thought we should take it in to the dealer. So we called, got the okay to bring it in, and soon thereafter had an explanation. An error code in the car’s computer system pointed to a problem with the battery in the key fob. Cost of a new battery: $5.95. But with labor: $62.50.

I share this account so that a Prius owner with this same problem might find a fix that saves time and money.

[When we shopped, we saw many other customers wearing masks. Employees, not so much. And now no one can accept a tip.]

“Us, the unnoticed”

Fernando Pessoa, from text 24, The Book of Disquiet, trans. from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith (New York: Penguin, 2003).


As I discovered later in the day, the materials of this passage reappear in Text 274. On the one hand, kings, emperors, geniuses, saints, leaders, prostitutes, prophets, and the rich. On the other, “there’s us”: the delivery boy, Shakespeare, the barber, Milton, the shop assistant, and Dante.

Related posts
Pessoa now : Pessoa and Almodóvar

Monday, April 13, 2020

Mystery actors

[Click for a larger view.]

I think that two of the three are easy. Can you name them all? Leave your answers in the comments. I’ll drop hints if I can think of good ones.


All three names are now in the comments.

More mystery actors (Collect them all)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Mysterious boxes

From the New York Times: Metropolitan Diary:

I was walking to the corner store to pick up a soda when I noticed a postal worker unlocking one of those olive-colored mailboxes that have always been a mystery to me.
And then the mystery deepens.

By the way, they’re called relay boxes. I’ve seen an opened one just once or twice.

Twenty-eight tools

Luke Leighfield, writer, lists twenty-eight tools he uses to get things done. He has a weekly newsletter of worthwhile links, Ten Things, available from his home page.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Making us worse

Tom Nichols, writing in The Atlantic, says that Donald Trump*’s matinee performances are making us worse people. An excerpt:

In his daily coronavirus briefings, Trump lumbers to the podium and pulls us into his world: detached from reality, unable to feel any emotions but anger and paranoia. Each time we watch, Trump’s spiritual poverty increases our own, because for the duration of these performances, we are forced to live in the same agitated, immediate state that envelops him. . . .

Daily, Trump’s opponents are enraged by yet another assault on the truth and basic human decency. His followers are delighted by yet more vulgar attacks on the media and the Democrats. And all of us, angry or pleased, become more like Trump, because just like the president, we end up thinking about only Trump, instead of our families, our fellow citizens, our health-care workers, or the future of our country. We are all forced to take sides every day, and those two sides are always “Trump” and “everyone else.”
On March 29 I told myself not to watch. Instead, I ended up looking at Aaron Rupar’s clips of choice moments. And on Friday I watched the live performance, at least a little of it. And I found myself (once again) charting new directions in obscenity as I cursed at the screen. And man, were they some strange directions. No more.

I like what Virginia Heffernan says:
Trump no longer matters.

He says the pandemic is bunk, go to work on Easter, try this quackery. Some people cheer; some people say he sucks. And then 316 MILLION AMERICANS listen to Fauci, stay home, flatten the curve.
Right on.

A first draft of history from TNYT

The New York Times has a lengthy report on the history of the Trump* administration’s response to the coronavirus. An excerpt:

Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action.

The president, though, was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly, focusing instead on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy and batting away warnings from senior officials. It was a problem, he said, that had come out of nowhere and could not have been foreseen.
As efforts to mitigate the effects of this pandemic continue, this administration’s failures must never be forgotten. Long story short: this president was and is more concerned with his own political well-being than with the lives of the American people. He is reckless, incompetent, a danger to the country he is supposed to be leading, and a danger to the world.

Bye, Will

I’ve finally acknowledged that The New York Times crossword puzzle sparks, for me, no joy. I ended my subscription and switched to the syndicated puzzle some time ago, after TORME, Mel Tormé, was clued as a “cool jazz pioneer.” No, he wasn’t one. I wrote to Will Shortz, the crossword editor, to make that case. I even sussed out the likely source of the mistake (which I suspected was Shortz’s) — the Times obituary for Tormé, which misinterpreted a statement about Tormé and cool jazz in a book on jazz singers. Shortz wrote back to say that I obviously knew more about jazz than he did (well, yes) but that he had “several sources” to support the clue (sure, sure). No correction appeared.

Fast-forward to today’s syndicated puzzle (published March 1). The clue for 54-A, seven letters: “Informal ‘Ugh!’” The answer: NOLIKEY. Ugh, indeed. Here’s a different kind of cluelessness, the same kind that let BEANER appear as a puzzle answer last year, even after Shortz had been told that beaner is a derogatory term. If there’s any doubt that “No likey” is blatantly racist stuff, a search in Google Books will return ample evidence. An additional element of cluelessness: in no universe might “No likey” be regarded as less formal than “Ugh!” Ugh, indeed, again.

In a comment on my Saturday Stumper post yesterday, blogger Zhoen recommended of The American Values Club crossword. Her recommendation couldn’t have been more timely. I’ve started a trial subscription.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Hanks’s OED

Holy cow: Tom Hanks has the twenty-volume second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary on his bookshelves. As seen on Saturday Night Live tonight.


See it here. I know — there are only eighteen volumes visible on the shelf. But it is the OED. A screenshot, with a member of the audience asking a question:

[Click for a larger view.]

Today’s Blursday Stumper

Today is Saturday. But it’s also Blursday. I just made up that day of the week, having woken up pretty sure that today was Friday. Today is my first Blursday since my in-house life began on March 14. Feel free to share the idea of Blursday, as long as you, too, do so while staying inside.

I found today’s Newsday Blursday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, a satisfying puzzle. Plenty of difficulty and novelty, but nothing strained or overly arch. I began solving with (what I think is) a giveaway: 19-A, six letters, “’40s actress in the Inventors Hall of Fame.” I would have made more of that first answer if I hadn’t misread the clue for 1-D, five letters, “Forster contemporary.” I was thinking of Stephen Foster and drawing a blank. Oh! Susanna.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially admire:

4-D, seven letters, “Water fitness class.” You were thinking exercise? I was. But the answer made me think of Boy Scout stuff, not that I ever was a Scout.

12-D, nine letters, “Freight hauler of old.” Now there’s an uncommon answer.

14-A, ten letters, “One of 13 in an Ultimate Dunking Set.” A nice bit of misdirection, and a smart way to repurpose a familiar bit of crosswordese.

27-A, twelve letters, “Accounts receivable, e.g.” I don’t know how I saw this answer so quickly. Not in my wheelhouse.

32-A, ten letters, “Kitchen remodeling tool.” Represent!

32-D, four letters, “Woman in hysterics.” Lately, there’s one such answer in every Stumper.

40-A, three letters, “Cutting-edge Lord of the Rings feature.” Must be some magical weapon, no? No.

60-A, ten letters, “What a thrift store CD player might say.” That seems to capture the ethos of every thrift store I’ve visited.

One clue that baffles me, even after getting the answer and looking online for an explanation: 48-A, four letters, “Name that sounds ‘mos’ reasonable.’” When a search for “mos reasonable” and the name turns up nothing but crossword-answer websites and random typos (“mos reasonable rates”), something’s not right. But I can’t say that this clue is strained or overly arch, because I have no idea what it means.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

[Blursday is better than Blurday, no? I’ve gone back and forth, as you can see by comparing the post and its URL. And as I’ve discovered, other people thought of the name before I did. There is nothing new under the sun, as someone else also already thought of saying.]

Friday, April 10, 2020

“Smart,” “genius,” “very smart”

Donald Trump*, who boasted not long ago about his understanding of the coronavirus, said this afternoon that the virus is “smart,” “genius,” “very smart,” “a brilliant enemy”:

“The germ has gotten so brilliant that the antibiotic can’t keep up with it.”
Antibiotics fight bacterial infections. They are useless against viruses.

[Once again, Aaron Rupar’s Twitter helped me to make sure I had the words right.]


You don’t have to be a believer to find this message grotesque. But notice the time-stamp as well as the words: Trump* began tweeting this morning at least three hours before this tweet, which is clearly something of an afterthought, hardly the first thing on his mind. I’ve seen that happen with other days and occasions too. Maybe someone prompts him: “Sir, . . . .”

Got logic?

The logic defies logic: the president’s press-briefing appearances endanger his bid for reelection; thus he should step away to better his chances for reelection. Hide his dishonesty, incompetence, misogyny, narcissism, racism, &c. so that he can have four more years in which to put them to use.

Ohio gets it right again

Ohio gets it right

Clear and memorable:

“Speak the truth”

Barack Obama, yesterday, speaking to U.S. mayors on the challenge of the coronavirus:

“Speak the truth. Speak it clearly. Speak it with compassion. Speak it with empathy for what folks are going through. The biggest mistake any us can make in these situations is to misinform, particularly when we’re requiring people to make sacrifices and take actions that might not be their natural inclination.”
Advice for non-mayors as well.

Wordsmith as a verb

“I’m gonna wordsmith it.” The meaning is clear: someone is prepared to go over a piece of prose with unstinting care to get everything right. That’s what a wordsmith — “a person who works with words,” “especially : a skillful writer” — does. But is wordsmith a verb?

The Oxford English Dictionary dates the transitive verb smith, or smið — ”to make, construct, or form (a metal weapon, iron implement, etc.) by forging and hammering” — to the year 1000 or so. The word soon acquired a figurative meaning: “to create or refine, esp. as if by the work of a smith.”

The OED entry for wordsmith has the word only as a noun, with a first citation from 1873. But the dictionary adds the (undefined) variant wordsmithing, with citations from 1920 and 2006 — “not an excellent bit of wordsmithing,” “any wordsmithing and posturing.” Word Spy cites an earlier appearance, from 1899: “Small wonder that in slang every man tried his hand at word-smithing.” Wordsmithing in these three citations appears to be a gerund, a verb form functioning as a noun.

But where’s the verb? Wordnik has a Wiktionary definition of Wordsmith as a verb: “To apply craftsman-like skills to word use.” Alas, no citations. But wait: Wordnik also has an entry for wordsmithed, with citations from the Internets. From 2010: “We broke into groups, developed draft text, and then wordsmithed as a group to produce the final text.” Here’s an older (1988) non-Wordnik example of wordsmith as a verb, from Richard Feynman via Google Books:

Gradually, I realized that the way my report was written, it would require a lot of wordsmithing — and we were running out of time. Then somebody suggested that my report could go in as an appendix. That way, it wouldn’t have to be wordsmithed to fit in
— and that’s where the preview runs out.

Google’s Ngram viewer has wordsmithing first appearing in 1941; wordsmithed, in 1963. Both words rise in use in the 1960s and again beginning in the 1980s, with wordsmithing far more common than wordsmithed.

What I think I’m seeing: a noun that gives rise to a gerund that gives rise to a verb. Curious indeed.

Now I’m gonna apply craftsman-like skills to what I’ve written before posting it.

A related post
The spirit of the shokunin

[A dictionary with entries for verb forms would have made my life much easier when I studied French and Spanish.]

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Proof reading

McKean’s law at work in a letter to a newspaper:

I continue to be amazed and amused at the frequency of misspellings, improper punctuation, incorrect use of words and other proof reading errors that seem to plague our print media.
Or as I used to say on pages that went out with writing assignments:
Use the computer to check spelling, but don't trust it to proof read for you. Please, don't be car less.

Distance, literal and figurative

Out for a walk, I talked from a distance with an area man who is ready for things to get back to normal. Well, at least a new normal, I said.

At the close of our short conversation, I said take care, something I say routinely, but which now seems to carry greater weight. The area man assured me that he’s young, strong, and not worried. I kept my mouth shut.


McKean’s law says that “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error.” And so it was that when I wrote a post in which I called attention to Donald Trump*’s non-standard pronunciation of siege, I misspelled the word as seige.

Which was fine by my Mac, whose spellchecker fails to recognize seige as a nonword. Here, look:

I typed the word and non-words you see above in TextEdit, chose Check Document Now from the Spelling and Grammar menu, and found that only hghgh was flagged. I tried again, choosing Show Spelling and Grammar, and the result was the same. Seige also passes for a word in MarsEdit, Pages, and, I would imagine, any app that uses the Mac’s spellcheck. Checking seige against the Mac’s dictionary with Look Up returns nothing: at least the dictionary knows that seige is not a word. I’m using macOS Mojave 10.14.6. Catalina users, do you get the same results?

The Blogger composing window sometimes flags seige. But only sometimes. As I type this post, the non-word is sometimes underlined in red, sometimes not. Now I’m wondering how many more non-words get by my Mac. But as everyone should already know, you can’t trust spellcheck.

[McKean’s law is named for the lexicographer Erin McKean. Years ago Erin helped me get an explanation of a strange sentence in the Mac’s digital thesaurus.]

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Voting in Wisconsin

A first-person account, by Emily Hogstad. An excerpt:

The image I can’t shake, though, is the one of Wisconsinites who don’t have my level of privilege, who will be forced to wait half a day or more in line to vote. During a pandemic. Who will risk illness or death to do it anyway.

When I think of them, I’ve run out of excuses.

Sunday NYT digests

Matt Thomas of Submitted for Your Perusal is moving his Sunday New York Times digests to e-mail. In this post he explains why and tells the reader how to subscribe.

Matt has been digesting the Sunday Times since December 2007. I’ve been reading him almost as long. Something I said in 2008 still holds: Matt’s digests almost always point me to Times items I’d otherwise overlook.

A notebook sighting

[Click for a larger view.]

“I have a whole list in here”: Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson in Bombshell (dir. Jay Roach, 2019).

More notebook sightings
All the King’s Men : Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : The Brasher Doubloon : Cat People : City Girl : Crossing Delancey : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : The Face Behind the Mask : Foreign Correspondent : Fury : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : The Racket : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66The Scarlet Claw : The Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Stranger Things : Time Table : T-Men : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Walk East on Beacon! : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

John Prine (1946–2020)

Of coronavirus. From The New York Times obituary:

After graduating from high school, he worked for the Post Office for two years before being drafted into the Army, which sent him to West Germany in charge of the motor pool at his base. After being discharged, he resumed his mail route, in and around his hometown, composing songs in his head.

“I always likened the mail route to a library with no books,” he wrote on his website. “I passed the time each day making up these little ditties.”
I can’t claim to know his music well, but I’ve never forgotten this song from my folkie youth.


Ezra Pound: “I believe in technique as the test of a man’s sincerity.” Let’s say a writer’s sincerity. Pound’s point is that there’s no genuine art without an absolute care for words and their implications. The cheap ornament or facile figure of speech won’t do.

When it comes to spam comments, one might think of sincerity as the test of a writer’s technique. Sincerity is crucial. Once you can fake that, &c., as the saying goes.

A useful exercise for novice students of writing might be to examine a spam comment closely and figure out all the ways in which its attempt at sincerity fails. Here’s one I received earlier this week:

That’s great! Just pumped up. You always give your best! Super useful and awesome information here. I thank you! Thank you very much!
Obviously, it’s a fake, and you can tell in an instant. But how much evidence can you assemble to make that case?

Twelve movies

[Or nine movies and three Netflix series. One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

The L-Shaped Room (dir. Bryan Forbes, 1962). Leslie Caron as Jane Fosset, a young Frenchwoman, unmarried and pregnant and living in a London boarding house. Jane’s dilemma — to have the child or not — is at the center of things. But the film is also a portrait of Jane among the boarding house residents — a struggling writer (Tom Bell), a jazz trumpeter (Brock Peters), an aging music-hall performer (Cicely Courtneidge), and a prostitute in the basement rooms (Patricia Phoenix). A great understated story of life amid bedbugs and thin walls. ★★★★

[A friend who had last seen this film in 1965 asked if it was available from the Criterion Channel or Kanopy — no, but I found it on YouTube. Also by Bryan Forbes: Seance on a Wet Afternoon, which I also recommend.]


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (dir. Marielle Heller, 2019). A story, I’d say, of a spiritual master and an unlikely, unwilling disciple, based on the friendship that grew between Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and an angry, cynical journalist (Matthew Rhys) who came to do an interview. One of the best things about the film in its use of the elements of a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode to tell the story. Another is, of course, Tom Hanks: even if he can’t get Daniel Tiger’s voice right, he is uncanny in his ability to suggest Fred Rogers’s way of being in the world. Watch for the moment when Hanks, seen from behind, walks across the television studio: it’s like seeing Mister Rogers again. ★★★★


Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at “The New York Times” (dir. Samantha Grant, 2013). Watching this documentary (which I’d watched in 2014 and forgotten about) is what comes of browsing the the F shelves in the library. Blair was an accomplished fabulist and plagiarist at the Times, where the uncovering of his many deceptions led not to a grade of F but to his resignation and the resignations of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd. Like so many plagiarists, Blair seems a cipher, unwracked by guilt, amused to be asked the obvious question of why he did what he did: “This one again!” The director never pushes hard enough to produce cracks in the facade, but that may be because the facade is, indeed, so obviously a facade. ★★★


I Wake Up Screaming (dir. H. Bruce Humberstone, 1941). Forget Betty Grable; forget Victor Mature. This is Laird Cregar’s finest hour, as psycho-cop Ed Cornell. As a shadow in an interrogation room, as a starkly-lit profile outside a cafeteria window, Cornell is an ultra-creepy figure, even more so when he utters tough-guy lines with soft-spoken elegance: “I'll follow you into your grave.” In 2020 this film looks like a cautionary tale about social media and sudden fame. ★★★★


Wicked Woman (dir. Russell Rouse, 1953). I found to this movie on YouTube after seeing Percy Helton in a Zippy strip. It’s Helton’s finest hour, and one of the seamiest movies I’ve seen — a masterpiece of seaminess that makes, say, The Postman Always Rings Twice feel wholesome by comparison. Beverly Michaels is wicked Billie Nash, living in a crummy rooming house, working at a bar, and making a play for Matt the bartender (Richard Egan) as his wife Dora (Evelyn Scott) drinks her life away in a corner. Meanwhile, little old rooming-house neighbor Charlie (Helton) makes an ever-more threatening play for Billie. ★★★★


Bombshell (dir. Jay Roach, 2019). The lives of women at Fox News. Front and center: Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and a (fictional) young evangelical, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). John Lithgow is a monstrous Roger Ailes, humiliating women in his office. The most powerful scene in the movie has Ailes doing just that, directing Pospisil to lift her skirt ever higher: “It’s a visual medium, Kayla.” ★★★★


The Ballad of Fred Hersch (dir. Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano, 2016). Fred Hersch is an extraordinary pianist, a jazz pianist, to be sure, but his repertoire extends to improvisations on folk songs, Billy Joel, and Joni Mitchell. Hersch’s music is both intensely heartfelt and intensely cerebral, mixing romanticism and abstraction and requiring an audience’s full attention (when he plays at the Village Vanguard, listen to how intently the audience is listening). This documentary, now free at Vimeo, is part performance, part biography, the story of an openly gay, HIV-positive musician who’s survived harrowing health challenges. Listen closely — in this age of the coronavirus, you can do so via Hersch’s daily live-streamed performances. ★★★★


Netflix days

Unorthodox (dir. Maria Schrader, 2020). A loose adaptation of Deborah Feldman’s memoir of fleeing a Brooklyn Hasidic community for a life in the larger world. Shira Haas plays Esther Shapiro, a young wife who tries to live up to her community’s norms before leaving Brooklyn for Berlin, where she falls in with a cheerful, cosmopolitan group of music students. But Esther doesn’t know that her husband Yakov (Amit Rahav) and his thuggish cousin Moische (Jeff Wilbusch) have set out to find her and bring her back. “So much damage done in Brooklyn in the name of God.” ★★★★

Tiger King (dir. Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode, 2020). A bizarro world of feuds and criminality among devotees of big cats, each of whom, depending upon whom you believe, a.) exploits or b.) cares for tigers and other species (including the human) in private parks. All I can say is that Joe Exotic, Jeff Lowe, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, Carole and Howard Baskin, and their associates are quite a group of unsavory personalities. (Which raises the question: is there such a thing as a “savory” personality?) My favorite line mixes the mad and the mundane: “I already knew he was batshit-crazy from our conversations at Wal-Mart.” ★★★★

Wild Wild Country (dir. Chapman Way and Maclain Way, 2018). A bizarro world of spiritual seekers, Rolls-Royces, Learjets, and semi-automatic weapons. At its center: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a spiritual leader who went to Oregon with his followers to live on a massive ranch, develop businesses thereon, and wrest political power from the local community by any means necessary. Interviews with followers are scary testimony to the power of belief to sustain itself, by any means necessary. One of the locals: “These people are crazy.” ★★★★


Blind Alley (dir. Charles Vidor, 1939). A story that made me think of Key Largo and Spellbound: Ralph Bellamy plays a professor/psychiatrist whose weekend retreat is taken over by an escaped convict (Chester Morris) and his henchmen. As the night wears on, the man of reason helps the man of unreason understand the dream that has tormented him for years. More brutal than the 1948 remake The Dark Past (dir. Rudolph Maté). As always, I take perverse pleasure in movie versions of academic life: here it’s a lakefront getaway, servants, no papers to grade. ★★★★


Angels Over Broadway (dir. Ben Hecht, 1940). It gets labeled as film noir, but it feels to me more like a fable or fairytale, or perhaps film noir directed by Ernst Lubitsch. A embezzling clerk, Charles Engle (John Qualen), falls in with a con artist (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), a showgirl (Rita Hayworth), and a failing playwright (Thomas Mitchell) who’s determined to rewrite the embezzler’s life and give it a happy ending. Snappy dialogue and strong atmosphere help offset a disjointed plot. Hayworth has the best line: “We’re all nickels and dimes, you, me, and Engle.” ★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Monday, April 6, 2020

“Try it”

Exceedingly weird: “But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you’d like.”

For a moment I thought that the pharma-rep-in-chief was going to lapse into the catchphrase from a memorable commercial.

Pessoa now

A New York Review Books newsletter asked what people are reading now. I sent these paragraphs:

I’m reading Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet (Richard Zenith’s translation from the Portuguese). I found my way to it by tracking down an unidentified passage in Spanish from a book that appears onscreen in Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. And then a friend mentioned that Pessoa’s book and Almodóvar’s film are two of his favorite things. So one translation led me to another.

The Book of Disquiet seems like appropriate reading for these times. It's a book of fragments, short or shorter commentaries on life both real and imagined, the work of a solitary man — Bernardo Soares, a Lisbon bookkeeper (one of Pessoa’s heteronyms) — who travels between his fourth-floor apartment on Rua dos Douradores and his workplace on the same street. “Isolation has carved me in its image and likeness,” he says. He writes of tedium, of his obscurity, of his co-workers, of what he sees from his fourth-floor window, of his own efforts to write. “If our life were an eternal standing by the window”: that seems to be most of us right now.
Here’s a post with the passage from Pain and Glory that started it all. George Bodmer mentioned Pessoa’s book in a comment. Elaine and I are a third of the way through.

Reader, what are you reading now?

[Heteronyms: Pessoa created a great many authorial identities for his writing — not aliases but imaginary selves with distinct styles and interests. Pessoa called Soares a semi-heteronym, an identity closer to Pessoa himself.]